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"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources
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Eschatology Q & A -- "What About Ephesians 2:11-22 and Dispensationalism?"

eschatology%20q%20and%20a.jpgRobert Mosley (December 2006) asks:
I skimmed through your A Case For Amillennialism (reading most of it). It would seem to me that Ephesians 2:11-22 would be the clearest biblical answer to the dispensational claim of two plans of salvation.  But you make no reference (that I saw) to this passage.  Why?



This should be a lesson to you not to skim my books!  I do indeed quote this passage on pages 120-121, and state that this passage (along with Galatians 3:28) “are clear challenges to the dispensational notion of two distinct peoples of God with separate redemptive economies" (A Case for Amillennialism, 120).  But your question gives me a chance to elaborate a bit more on this very important text, and the dispensational interpretation of it.

Dispensationalists obviously struggle with this critical Pauline passage because it so clearly states something completely different from the dispensational claim that although there is but one gospel, nevertheless, there are distinctive redemptive purposes for national Israel, as well as for the Gentiles.

It is helpful to see how various dispensational writers approach this passage.  Pentecost, for one, argues that this passage describes God’s purpose for the present age, but not for the millennial age.  Pentecost contends that this passage is indicative of God’s distinct program for his earthly people Israel, and for the church (J. D. Pentecost, Things to Come, Zondervan, 1978, 528-529). 

John Walvoord sees the passage as referring to the “new program” for the church (which was a mystery in the Old Testament), in which a living union is formed so that Jew and Gentile are brought together so that all racial tensions are eliminated (Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies, Zondervan, 1991), 241-242. 

Charles Ryrie cites Ephesians 2:15 as proof that the church was a mystery in the Old Testament (Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody, 1996), 125.  While Charles Dyer agrees with this, he gives the following caution.  “One must be careful in reading too much meaning into an analogy,” referring to Paul’s use for the phrase, “the new man.”  Dyer concludes, “the mere presence of an analogy does not automatically argue for the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy” (Charles Dyer, “The Biblical Meaning of Fulfillment” in Issues in Dispensationlism, Moody, 1994, 60). 

Barry Horner contends that the Reformed interpretation of this passage--which he correctly acknowledges is to us a critical passage--completely eliminates any distinction between Jew and Gentile.  Horner sees this as a “fundamental error” because it supposedly obliterates any cultural distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians, when the New Testament allows for such distinctions.  (cf. Barry Horner, Future Israel, B & H Academic, 2007, 269-275).

There are several things to say in response to the dispensational interpretation of this passage.  First, suppose, for the sake of argument, that this passage is indeed talking about God’s “new program” for the church age, and that Paul is describing what happens when God temporarily joins Jew and Gentile together in the church (his purpose in this present age).  But what happens when the Gentile church is raptured from the earth at the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period?  From that point on (according to dispensationalists), God’s redemptive purposes once again shift from salvation of the Gentiles, back to national Israel during both the tribulation and millennial age.  That which Christ came to do–make the two peoples one (Ephesians 2:11-22)–is now completely undone in the millennial age. 

If dispensationalists are correct, this means that redemptive history moves forward (from type and shadow to fulfillment and reality) until the tribulation.  Then, in one gigantic redemptive-historical U-turn, God's purposes now return to the same Old Testament types and shadows which existed before the coming of Christ, which pointed to him, and which he fulfilled!  This, of course, is not the case.

Second, as Charles Dyer points out, dispensationalists need to be clear that Paul is only using an analogy here, and that he is not speaking literally.  This is rather amusing, since dispensationalists often chide amillennarians about supposedly allegorizing clear passages and “spiritualizing" them.  Now, says Dyer, the heart of Ephesians 2:11-22 (v. 15) is a mere analogy about the "new man" and has nothing whatsoever to do with the fulfillment of prophecy. 

Don’t you just love it when those (like Dyer) who claim to hold their view because they interpret the Bible “literally,” now fall all over themselves to deny the literal interpretation of a passage which largely serves to undo the entire dispensational hermeneutic.  Yes, Paul is using the new man analogy in verse 15 to explain to his readers the wonder of what has happened with the coming of Christ.  Gentiles, who were separated from Christ and aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, who were strangers to the covenants of promise, who were without hope, and without God in the world (vv. 12-13), have now been brought near by the blood of Christ (v. 13)!  Wasn't all of this prophesied in the Old Testament, and fulfilled by Christ during his messianic mission?  What I am missing?

More than that, God took these two different groups and made them one, making Jew and Gentile alike fellow citizens of the same spiritual house (the church--vv. 19-22).  This is why Paul can speak of the barrier wall, which separated the outer court of the Gentiles from the inner court in the Jerusalem temple, as being "torn  down" (v. 14).  This happened, in a theological sense, when Christ fulfilled the Mosaic economy (rendering it obsolete--cf. Hebrews 8:13), and united both Jew and Gentile into one "new man" (v. 15-18).  The ground of God's hostility toward us (our sin), as well as our hostility toward each other (Jewish exclusiveness and Gentile godlessness) have forever been removed.  That which was hidden in type and shadow in the Old Testament has been fulfilled, and now fully brought into the open through Christ's redemptive work.

Third, Horner completely misses the point Reformed amillennarians are making about this passage when we speak of God's purpose in Christ as making the two peoples (Jew and Gentile) one in Christ.  When God brings Jews and Gentiles together in the church, he never insists that Jews stop living as Jews (culturally or ethnically).  Rather, the apostles repeatedly warn Jewish Christians (cf. Galatians 1-3; Acts 15) that it is a condemnable error to insist that Gentile converts to Christianity live as Jews (and accept ritual circumcision, keep the dietary laws, and feast days) in order to be justified.  Paul's point is that God takes ethnic Jews (with all of their history and culture--indeed Paul himself lived as a Jew, although he was willing to become all things to all men) and then joins them together with Gentiles (of every race and tongue) into one church, the temple of the living God.  

In fact, God’s joining of Jew and Gentile together into one new man takes place on the basis of Christ’s redemptive work (v. 16), not because Jews give up their cultural identity.  Don't forget that it was the same Apostle Paul who tells us in Galatians 3:26-29, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise?”

If Horner’s take on the Reformed hermeneutical principle is correct--that the joining of these two different peoples into one church requires us to deny any diversity whatsoever--then we as Reformed Christians would certainly argue that once we become Christians, men and women are to become androgynous, because the joining of male and female into one body (the church) obliterates all diversity.  There's a reason why we don't argue that way in Galatians 3:28.  There's a reason why we don't mean such a thing in Ephesians 2:11-12.  Surely, Dr. Horner ought to rethink that charge. 

Furthermore, as someone who is not Dutch (I'm a German) and yet who serves as a minister in a largely Dutch Reformed denomination, I can tell you that people of various cultures and ethnic backgrounds, get along just fine in the church, even if the ethnic and cultural differences remain.  Throw in several Asian cultures, some hispanics, and add a few Filipinos to the mix, and that's just part of what you'll find in our church.  What unites us is a common faith, not a common culture.  That is what was to unite the Ephesians as well.

In this passage, I take Paul to be making the following point.  Through the redemptive work of Christ (vv. 13, 16), God has brought Gentiles (formerly aliens and strangers, vv. 12-13) into God’s house (the church, vv. 19-22), along with those Jews who likewise embrace Christ through faith (vv. 14-19).  This was God's purpose from the beginning.  Indeed the church is God’s holy temple, indwelt by Christ's blessed Spirit.  This is not a temporary situation.  Rather, this points us in the direction of the final consummation, because that same indwelling Spirit guarantees the resurrection of our bodies (Ephesians 1:13-14), so that we dwell upon a new heaven and earth, the home of righteousness.

To insist, as dispensationalists do, that this glorious temple which Jesus is currently building is somehow torn apart when Christ returns to remove the Gentile church (which includes Jewish believers) and set up his millennial reign upon the earth, misses the whole point of Ephesians 2:11-22.  To argue that the point of this passage is but a mere analogy with no reference to fulfilled prophecy also misses (rather badly at that) Paul's point.  And to argue that the Reformed interpretation somehow requires a complete obliteration of the distinction between Jews (ethnically/culturally) simply cannot be sustained.

It is hard for me to see how this passage is anything but a serious challenge to the dispensational reading of Scripture. 

Reader Comments (9)

I use Ephesians 2:11-22 all the time. It really is the only valid interpretation of the text. I also use Gal. 6:16 and 1 Peter 2:9 & 10.

I have a bunch of other scriptures and arguments that I use against the dispensationalist's, but it would take up way too much time.
March 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLLOYD
Wouldn't be easier, instead of these strange explanations of now and then, to recognize that Ephesians 2:11-22 and Galatians 3:28 talk about the church? It doesn't talk about what happens after the church age, regardless of one's millennial position. The kind of explanation attempted is as unnecessary as it is stilted. Better, it seems to me, to simply recognize the context of the passage.

To say that God fulfilling his plan with the Jews in the Trib and Millennium undo the joining together in the church, as Riddlebarger here says, ignores the dispensational teaching that the church is eternal. To see God fulfilling his promises to the Jews in the Tribulation and Millennium does not undo the oneness in the church in anyway.

The explanation attempted here does not seem to even seriously address the dispensational issues. It seems but a gloss over the issues, not only of this passage, but of this passage in its redemptive and historical context.
March 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLarry
"Don’t you just love it when those (like Dyer) who claim to hold their view because they interpret the Bible “literally,” now fall all over themselves to deny the literal interpretation of a passage which largely serves to undo the entire dispensational hermeneutic"

That's the very reason why I rejected dispensationalism--it's the places they abandon the straight-forward reading that reveals the most. By the way, Sam Waldron is giving an excellent review on his blog of Horner's book.
March 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatt
To Kim's words: AMEN! AMEN!! AMEN!!!

I would add Eph. 3:6 - "the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."

As for Larry's words, I disagree, profoundly. The dispensational view rips apart what God has joined together. I think there's ample evidence that the hope of saved Jews and saved Gentiles alike --as part of the one and eternal people of God-- is really one and the same. A comparison of Hebrews 11:8-10,13-16 with Hebrews 12:22-24; 13:14 is but one more indicator of this truth.

Anything else is retrogressive, and sadly overlooks the fact that what was anticipated and promised in the OT is realized and fulfilled in Christ ... partially in this present age, and fully in the age to come ... for all of God's people.
March 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWayne Rohde
Amen Wayne.....we disagree with 'Larry' also. Amill is the only view that seems to fit almost all the way around. Every view has its postitive side and if truth be known, all the views probably have truth to them. But none even come close to what the Reformed Amillers say. In our thoughts, they have it.
March 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterplw
Some problems with dispensational theology:

1. Secret rapture: 1 Thessalonians 4:16 "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God." They also use 1 Corinthians 15. This indicates that the second coming will not be silent, but it is a metaphor for a loud coming, where every eye will see him. This also indicates that they teach three comings of Christ, once at the incarnation, again for the raputured church, and a third time after the seven year tribulation period (before the 1,000 year rein of Christ). Answer: The Bible clearly teaches that Christ's second coming is in judgement at the end of this present age. Please see the Apostles Creed.

2. 1,000 year millennial rein of Christ: Revelation 20 is the only passage that the dispensationalist points to as the fulfillment
of all of the prophecies to Israel. If you read Rev. 20, it has nothing to do with the prophecies of Israel being fulfilled. (These prophecies were fulfilled a. long ago, b. at the incarnation, c. they will be fulfilled in the age to come.) They believe that this is a literal 1,000 year rein, when it is actually the new testament era (kingdom age). They teach that the resurrection of the just and unjust is separated by this 1,000 year rein of Christ. However, Jesus says in John 5:28 and 29, "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth-those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." There is no mention of 1,000 years separating these two resurrections. Daniel 12:2 says the same thing. Next, the people that come out of the seven year tribulation period, (Jews and carnal Christians) enter into this so-called 1,000 year rein of Christ in their non-glorified bodies and live about 900 years or so. These folks give birth to unbelivers, which are judged right on the spot. (This, in essence, brings us back to the fall again, back to the garden of Eden again, after the return of Christ in judgement!) Meanwhile, the Jews go back to types and shadows and they start up the animal sacrafices again, which conflicts with the priestly office of Christ! Ridiculous, that this mostly United States brand of christianty can become so popular with the masses.

Luther says, "The hope of the Jews that another physical return is still to take place, when all of them together will come back into the land and re-establish the old Mosaic order of things - this is a dream of their own, and not one letter in the prophets or in Scripture says or signifies anything of the kind. No longer are there to be two kingdoms - but one kingdom, under their future King David, and it will be an everlasting kingdom in the same geographic (leiblichen) country."
March 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLLOYD
>By the way, Sam Waldron is giving an excellent review on his blog of Horner's book.

And also by the way, Chris Arnzen had both Waldron and Horner on Iron Sharpens Iron this week (on successive days). Http://

Horner's positions sure sounds like the old "y-all are antisemitic" that we're all so tired of.
March 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter"lee n. field"
Hi Kim,
It was my exegetical of this passage while at DTS that caused me to begin to rethink the claims of Dispensationalism. Once that domino fell... well, Calvin and the Reformed arguments won the day!

Good post and great reminder.
March 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy

I sent a question in to you through your site. I think this post probably answered it.

God Bless

March 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHoward Fisher

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